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Helping someone to use the toilet

Helping a relative or friend to use the toilet or go to the bathroom can be one of the most difficult tasks faced by carers. It’s important to encourage independence for as long as possible. But if they do need your help, asking them what they’d prefer will make them feel more in control.  

You might like to ask your district nurse or healthcare assistant to be there when you first take your friend or relative to the toilet. But if toileting is a task you and your friend or relative would rather not do together, ask the district nurse for advice. There may be a healthcare professional available to visit for toilet breaks. 

Equipment and adaptations that can help

Your district nurse or occupational therapist will be able to give you advice about equipment and adaptations that can help with toileting. The Living made easy website   also has some suggestions. Commonly-used equipment includes: 

Adaptations may include metal frames or handrails around the toilet to help with sitting or standing, and bed or chair raisers.

We have more information about equipment and adaptations that can help.

If the person can get out of bed 

You might need to help your relative or friend stand and walk so they can get to the bathroom. If they can’t stand easily, don’t try to move them. You could both be injured.

You might want to consider getting a commode so the person doesn’t have as far to walk. This is a toilet on wheels that can be moved closer to the bed and emptied afterwards. If you get a commode, consider buying or making a screen for privacy. 

If there’s a long corridor between the bedroom and bathroom, it can help to place a chair in the hallway so they can have a rest half way.

When you get to the bathroom, keep an arm around their back and make sure they have something to hold on to before lowering them down. 

Give them privacy and ask them to tell you when they’re ready for your help again. You may need to help them undo buttons or remove items of clothing if they can’t manage. 

To clean them, first help them to stand up. Then clean their buttocks with toilet paper, followed by wet wipes if you have any to hand. If your relative or friend is female, wiping from the front towards the back will help prevent infection.

If the person can’t get out of bed 

If your friend or relative can’t get out of bed, you may need to help them use a bedpan or urinal. If the person is strong enough to sit up in bed, it can make this easier. Sit them against lots of pillows so their back is upright. If you have an adjustable bed, adjust it so that the head and back are raised. 

  • Wash the bedpan in hot water and dry it, then put it somewhere nearby. If your friend or relative uses talcum powder, sprinkling the edges can make it easier to slide under your relative or friend. But don’t use talcum powder if they’ve got a pressure sore.
  • If your relative or friend can lift their back and bottom up (sometimes called making a bridge), ask them to do this and place a waterproof pad underneath them in case there are any spills. 
  • While supporting their lower back with one hand, place the curved edge of the bedpan underneath their buttocks. Then ask them to rest their weight on the pan, and cover them with a towel to maintain their dignity. 
  • If your relative or friend can’t lift their back up, you’ll need to roll them in bed, then roll them back on to the pan.
  • While your friend or relative is using the pan, try to give them as much privacy as possible. When they’re finished, ask them to raise their buttocks again and slide the pan out gently while supporting their lower back. Cover it with a towel and put it on a chair while you clean your relative or friend. You can empty the pan in the toilet afterwards. 

Changing the sheets 

It’s quite common for fluid to leak on to the sheets when you remove the pan, even if you’ve used protective pads. It can help to have a bed guard (an attachable rail) or another family member standing by to help the person feel secure while they are being turned. Ask a member of your healthcare team to show you how to do this.  

Washing and hygiene 

Follow these steps when washing your relative or friend:

  • Roll the person on to their side.
  • Wipe their buttocks with toilet paper first, then wet wipes.
  • Dry the area gently with a clean towel.
  • Roll them into a comfortable position and cover them with sheets to keep their dignity.
  • Give them some wet wipes and antibacterial gel to wash their hands, or use a flannel, soap and water. 

Your relative or friend may be anxious about having an accident, or suffer from incontinence. Any leaks should be cleaned up quickly, as damp skin can lead to pressure sores developing.

Your district nurse will be able to advise you on the best hygiene methods and cleaning products to use to prevent infection. If you have any concerns about your family member or friend’s health, please tell the nurse. We also have more information about bowel and bladder problems.

Communication and personal habits 

If you have difficulty communicating with your relative or friend, you could show them pictures of a bedpan, urinal or toilet, toilet paper and hand washing, to help them understand what to do next. Even showing them an actual bedpan or urinal might help. 

If your relative has dementia, a red toilet seat is useful as it can help them see where to sit. 

It’s also worth considering any habits that will help them go to the toilet. For example, some people find reading material or the sound of a running tap relaxing, especially in a new place. Some people are also used to going at particular times, such as first thing in the morning or after a meal, and will find it easier to stick to this routine.

External websites

This page is for general information only. It's not intended to replace any advice from health or social care professionals. We suggest that you consult with a qualified professional about your individual circumstances. Read more about how our information is created and how it's used.

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